Thursday, July 13, 2017

THE SECRET’S OUT – RELATIVELY SPEAKING!




The cat is out of the bag!  The truth has been revealed!  I can hide it no longer!  I am an ocker.  However, seeing I’m female, if you must insist in my being pedantic - if I must split hairs - I am an “ockeress”. I’m a bogan; a Gimp from Gympie; I even have the limp to prove it.  Satisfied?

I don’t sit with the ladies, straight of back, legs neatly posed and positioned correctly, while daintily sipping on Twinings tea-filled finest bone china gold-leaf antique tea cups from Royal Albert or his first cousin Royal Doulton, or their second cousin, Wedgwood – with my pinky appropriately poised, making delicate small talk. 

I’d be most welcome at, and more suited to the Mad Hatter’s tea party... hat or no hat; probably even the guest of honour.

Perhaps I should purchase a handbook of rules and hints, such as “How to Become a Lady for Dummies”... germane to the subject herein, I do declare.

All of the above freely-gifted information is not to say I’m not capable of mixing it with the best if the situation arose, or when it’s necessary for me to do so.  I learned at an early age the “rights” and “wrongs” of sipping and supping.

Also, another invaluable lesson I was taught when young, invaluable advice, was to be able to converse with anyone of any standing, from the Queen to a street-sweeper, and all in between. I've not met Liz, but I'm sure we'd get on like a palace on fire! (I've no desire to meet Camilla, so I shan't be inviting her to tea).

Often, my brother and I accompanied our Nana when she visited her cousin and her husband, who just happened to be Gympie’s top and sole tailor.  My brother and I called them “Aunty Annie” and “Uncle Joe”, but, as the experts explain in their most discerning ways, your relationship with your grandmother/grandfather’s cousin is similar to the relationship you have with your grandmother/grandfather.  

In simpler terms if you find yourself in this confusing position on the family tree – if you’re out on a limb - you are their first cousin twice removed. 

It was simpler to call Nana’s cousin and her husband, “Aunty” and “Uncle”, rather than complicate the situation further.  Young brains can only handle so much.

Aunty Annie and Uncle Joe lived in a lovely Federation-style home in Mellor Street, Gympie. Adjoining the stately home, to its left side was Uncle Joe’s tailoring business.

Quality, antique furniture and objets d’ art filled the home.  Beautifully-maintained gardens surrounded the house. A paved pathway in the back garden meandered leisurely between trimmed hedges, flower and vegetable beds. Large aviaries were dotted throughout, each standing well over seven feet high and double that or more in width.  A peacock or two often strutted free, much to my brother’s and my delight. Pigeons, finches, budgerigars, and other colourful bird varieties graced their large cages. Quails kept the bottom of the aviaries clean.  

Personally, I don’t like seeing caged birds, and would never consider keeping them so confined.   My enjoyment is to see our feathered friends fly freely at their own will. I have many that are my regular daily visitors.  We're on first name basis.

When I was a little girl, we did have “Sweetie”, a very melodious, yellow canary who kept us entertained with his wonderful whistling.  Also, for a few years, my brother, Graham put into practice what Uncle Joe had taught him, and he, Graham, built a large aviary in which he kept a variety of small birds, along with a pair of quails to do the housekeeping.

While I mostly spent our visits to Uncle Joe and Aunty Annie’s home sitting quietly, politely, genteelly sipping tea with milk and one sugar from one of Aunty Annie’s best bone china tea cups (secretly praying I’d not drop, chip or spill), my brother was in his element, out in the back garden with Uncle Joe learning everything there was to learn about plants and bird-keeping!
 
How unfair!  

All was not lost, I did learn how to behave myself when in company, how to sip and sit in a ladylike fashion.

On the flip-side, I also learned to enjoy certain unladylike sports, as my loud yell testified when I learned Australian professional boxer, Jeff Horn, from Acacia Ridge, a suburb of Brisbane had won his WBO Welterweight world title in his boxing match against Manny Pacquiao on the afternoon of the second Sunday in July, 2017. 
  
Pacquiao, from The Philippines, is considered by many aficionados of the sport to be one of the greatest boxers of all tim.  He has won 11 major world titles. Manny Pacquiao has also won titles over five different weight classes. 

Jeff Horn, (with not a tattoo on his body....I hate, hate, hate tattoos) when he was still an amateur, as a light-welterweight, reached the quarter-finals at the 2012 London Olympics.
Fortunately, my primal scream on Sunday 2nd didn’t shatter any bone china, or glass within hearing distance when Brisbane’s humble ex-school teacher Horn won against his most worthy opponent,

When we were kids, before the advent of television, as a family, we sat with our ears were glued to the radio listening to the big fight broadcasts. Aussie Jimmy Carruthers, bantamweight champion of the world, was a household name, as was the great Rocky Marciano, the unbeaten world heavyweight champion from the US.  

As a teenager, my brother was in the Gympie Police-Citizens Youth Club, part of the boxing group, and from what I was told by a member of Gympie’s police force at the time, a John Landy, that my brother showed great promise and was very good at the sport, but during competition Graham’s nerves came into play, forcing him to battle two opponents.  (For five years after leaving high school at the age of 15, I was employed by a Gympie law firm as a legal secretary; the office, of course, had many dealings with the “Men in Blue”).

I’ve written previously that our father played no part in our lives, ever, other than planting his seed.  He and our mother separated, and divorced, when Graham and I were very young.  (In fact, our parents separated when our mother was pregnant with me).

Joe Nicholson, our biological father, I learned only about eight years ago, was, back in the 1930, the Central Queensland boxing champion.  He was born and raised in Rockhampton, on the Capricornia Coast. 

I don’t know what weight class he was in, but he was being considered to be a representative in the Australian Olympic boxing team.  However, his mother, our grandmother, a feisty little Irish lady who’d immigrated, with our grandfather, from County Armagh, Northern Island in the early years of the 1900s, apparently put up her own fight; put her foot down, and firmly, declared she believed her son, Joseph, to be far too young to go off across the ocean to do battle in a boxing ring, Olympics or no Olympics!  And, that was that...Mother had spoken!

So the story goes...and then the Second World War loomed, and all thoughts of further representation at future Olympics and boxing tournaments hit the canvas.

One of the sad things about this story - if one looks at it that way - is my brother Graham passed away in 1996, and he was never aware of it.   

However, knowing my brother so well, I feel certain he would have turned his nose up about it, stating he couldn’t give a damn.  He’d drawn a firm, thick, unbreakable line through the paternal side of our family. He wasn’t interested, or on the outer, he displayed disinterest, in anything to do with the clan Nicholson.

I was thrilled a few years ago when briefly, very briefly, I chatted with Joe Bugner, the Hungarian-born, British-Aussie former heavyweight boxer, and actor. Bugner moved to Australia in 1986. For a while in the late 90s and early 2000s he lived and ran a business here on Tamborine Mountain. He and his wife (singer, Tom Jones was their Best Man) left the hill, and now live on the Gold Coast.

One day, a couple of years after I came to live here, while purchasing a bottle of wine at a local bottle shop, I’d bumped into the towering Joe Bugner!  

Oops!  Being a lady, I apologised, and we had a brief, polite chat.

Tea-Smoked Duck: Heat 2c water, 1/4c salt, 2 pears, quartered, 4 crushed cardamom pods, 6 crushed juniper berries and 4 crushed cloves until salt has dissolved. Remove from heat; add 2c ice; stir until cool. Make cross-hatch pattern on skin side of 2 duck breasts. Place in cold brine; chill overnight; remove breasts from brine; pat dry. Place Dutch oven over med-high heat. When hot, add breasts skin side down. Fat will render quickly; gradually pour off fat; When crust begins to develop on breasts, and they’re slightly charred, remove; pour off fat, leaving a little, if desired; drop 3tbs loose-leaf green tea into the Dutch oven, over the heat. Cover 30secs; open quickly not to let out too much smoke; replace breasts, flesh side down. Cover; sear 2mins; quickly open; turn breast to skin side down; re-cover; sear 2mins for med-rare. When cooked, slice on bias into strips; serve with cranberry compote, pea shoots and sweet potatoes roasted in duck fat.

Matcha-Zucchini Noodles: Cook 240g matcha green tea soba noodes in boiling salted water, according to directions; drain.  Julienne 1 or 2 medium zucchinis into long noodles; then place in colander; salt well. Drain over bowl, 20mins. Heat 3tbs olive oil in pan over med-heat; add 1tbs grated fresh ginger and 3 grated garlic cloves; fry 2-3mins; stir constantly; remove from heat; stir in 2tsp sesame oil, 2tbs honey, 2tbs soy sauce and juice from 1 lemon; stir until smooth sauce is formed; add to noodles; toss to coat.

Matcha Vanilla Pound Cake:  Combine about 3c plain flour, 1tsp baking powder, 1/2tsp baking soda, 2tbs matcha powder and 1/2tsp salt. Place 2c sugar, 3/4c softened butter and 1tsp vanilla extract in bowl: beat on med-speed until light and fluffy; add 3 large eggs, one at a time, beat well after each addition.  Add flour and 1-1/3c buttermilk to sugar mixture, beginning and ending with flour mixture. Spoon batter into a couple of greased loaf pans; bake in preheated 175C oven, 40 mins or so. Cool in pans 10mins; then cool completely on racks.  


Wednesday, July 05, 2017

PAT-A-CAKE, PAT-A-CAKE...



Cedar Pocket (above and below)
Photography by revered landscape photographer, Steve Parish
None other, of course, than Dame Edna...aka Barry Humphries

Stop! Please!  Sit on your hands!  For Heaven’s sake, don’t take me literally!  Don’t do as I say! The best advice I can give you is not to start patting the cakes in the bakery, or in the supermarket. Doing so won’t make you very popular.  As I’m not speaking from hands-on experience, I imagine you wouldn’t be welcomed with open arms if you did.  
Honestly - cross my heart (and hope not to die) - I do NOT go around patting cakes. 

Back in the days I had freckles sprinkled across my nose and pigtails swinging in the breeze, when I had a doll named “Patty”, frequently I visited my friend’s home at Cedar Pocket, via Gympie. My friend’s parents owned and operated a dairy farm. Cedar Pocket was, and still is, a lush dairy farming area.

During my visits to the farm I stepped around many cow patties.   Doing so was far better than stepping on one, particularly if it was still moist and warm. 

There was a lot of dodging patties when we were running about the paddocks rounding up the cows, or when we kicked our imagination into high gear while pretending we were riding the ranges; circling the wagons, dodging arrows being fired by marauding “red injuns”.   In general, being heroes for one day

If, perchance, you’re wondering, with fancy footwork and speedy sidesteps I managed to evade the arrows, as well as the cow patties, and I lived to tell the tale.

Years later, however, I wasn’t averse to collecting cow patties.  No bull...if you stick around, I’ll tell you why.  

Once upon a time, for a number of years, I lived and worked in areas within the Bowen Basin and other places in North Queensland, information I have previously divulged, many times over.

A member of my menagerie in those days, which also included my two cats, Pushkin and Rimsky, was Missy, a cocky black and grey Cocker Spaniel, who reminded me, in some ways, of Dame Edna Everage, minus the decorative reading glasses and the gladdies aka gladiolus. 

I’m not sure if Missy and Dame Edna were related, but Missy often acted as if she was! 

Presently, the world is celebrating fifty years since The Beatles released “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”, but what we should be celebrating is the wonderful Dung Beetle.

Sure, the now-elusive Christmas Beetles, with their iridescent coloured carapace, are much-admired – and rightly so for shining brightly, but on the highest flung rung of usefulness the mighty Dung Beetle perches.   

Even Steve Parish, the much-lauded Australian nature photographer, publisher and author of books for adults and children, honoured this wonderful critter in his book, namely -“Doug the Dung Beetle”. 

Sadly, I don’t have a copy sitting on any of my bookshelves. 

However, more than once, on a day off, if I wasn’t taking it easy reading a book and listening to music – and not cooking for the masses etc., I most likely could be found rummaging around a nearby cattle station, out of sight of the property owners, but more importantly, out of view and charging distance of Ferdinand the Bull...head of the herd and harem. 

By the way, I never wore red when I was out and about scrounging dung from the paddocks. 

The important little Dung Beetles from the far-flung fields were what I was after.
After having gathered together enough dried cow patties, I’d bring them home – in a heavy-duty garbage bag - and then, I’d scatter the pats around the back yard of wherever I was living at the time.

The clever little beetles, without fuss or ado - or demands for payment or rewards for their service, did what they were created to do.  

Because of their generous, selfless deed I never ever had to worry about Missy’s waste material.  It was all in a day’s work for them...no complaints.

Everyone was happy, including the lawn and garden.  

I suppose in the mind of others there are more fun things to do on one’s day off than gathering cow patties, but freely I admit I enjoyed my pat-a-cake collecting; out in the fresh air; roaming the paddocks... circumventing the bulls... 

Red Lentil-Pumpkin Patties: Cook 1c red lentils approx 10mins, or until tender, split open, but not completely broken down; drain; cool. Heat oven 200C.  Peel and slice ½ butternut pumpkin; coat with a little olive oil; roast 20-25mins; cool; slice into small chunks, about 2cm in diameter. Combine lentils, pumpkin, finely-chopped onion, 2 crushed garlic cloves, 1tsp smoked paprika, 1tsp cayenne, 1-1/2tbs plain or rice flour and chopped coriander or parsley. Shape into 4 patties; chill 30mins. Heat a little oil in pan; fry patties about 4mins per side. Serve with salad.

Quinoa-Broccoli Patties: Cook 1/2c quinoa in 1c boiling water; bring to boil; let simmer 15mins. Once water is absorbed, put on plate; cool completely. Sauté 1 small onion, diced, until soft; cool. Cook 5 large broccoli florets until softened a little; cool; dice into small pieces. Mix everything together; add 1 large egg; season; mix well; add 1/4c shredded cheese. Form into patties. Heat olive oil in pan; cook,7-8mins per side over med-heat.

Kumara-Kale-Chicken Patties: Heat pan on med-high heat with 1tsp x-virgin olive oil or coconut oil; add 2-3 shallots finely chopped; cook 3-5mins. Add ½ medium kumara, cut into tiny cubes; cook until barely tender.  Add 2-1/2c finely chopped kale leaves; cook 2-3mins.  Add 450g skinless, boneless chicken breasts, cut into chunks to processor; pulse until ground. Transfer to bowl; add 1/2tsp salt, 1 minced garlic clove, 1tsp paprika, 1tsp Dijon mustard, 1tbs finely chopped fresh rosemary, 1 egg and 2tbs coconut flour; add kumara mix; combine with your hands. Cover; chill 4hrs or overnight. Divide into 6 or 7 patties. Coat pan with a little oil; add patties; cook until golden, 5-6mins; flip; cook until golden and cooked. 





Monday, June 26, 2017

MUSIC, MAESTRO, PLEASE...



The Old Brisbane Stadium
Brisbane Festival Hall

Mikis Theodorakis
Mikis and Anthony Quinn (Zorba...the wonderful Zorba)!


A word said in passing, or a snippet read, can set off the trigger to a host of memories. Soon you (meaning me in this instance) become lost in reverie.   

The trigger to my present myriad musical memories was the mention of Brisbane’s now no-longer-in-existence, Festival Hall. The building once upon a time proudly sat on the corner of Albert and Charlotte Streets, its open doors welcoming all-comers. 

The iconic hall, after years of putting up with the beat, the screams, the sighs, the music closed its doors and packed up its seating on 28th August, 2003.   

Progress took over and the building was demolished to be replaced by an apartment development, aptly named “Festival Towers”.  Apparently, the seats were sold off in sets of three as souvenirs to those not keen to let go of the memories of fun times had.

The original Brisbane Stadium, a rather unimpressive, unadorned building, was built in 1910.  It was erected to host boxing and wrestling events. The pugilists and their fans cared not about the appearance of the construction. As long as the boxing ring was square and the canvas taut, they were happy. They didn’t wrestle with further emotions.

However, once Bill Haley and the Comets shot onto the music scene, the teenagers of the 50s were more than eager to “Rock Around the Clock”.   

Everyone was ready to shake, rattle and roll...the alligators hang around for later, and the crocodiles were prepared to wait a while...

Others of like mind, nimble fingers, swivelling hips who could carry a tune or two with gusto quickly followed Haley’s trail, wanting to be in his orbit. 

Rock ‘n Roll had arrived with a big bang, not in theory, but practice...and in it’s sights was Festival Hall. 

With the twang of guitars, and rolling pianos played by the likes of Jerry Lee Lewis and Little Richard, fevered fans couldn’t get enough of the new kids on the block.

It was during his 1957 tour Down Under Little Richard announced to a stunned public he’d seen the light. He shocked the world when he denounced his flamboyant unpredictability by being unpredictable.   Everywhere lovers of rock ‘n roll were left gasping, open-mouthed.  Little Dick tossed away the trappings of being a rock ‘n roll star to follow a life in the ministry. He handed the “Tutti Frutti” to “Long Tall Sally”, and then yelled out, “I’m Ready, Teddy!”  With no further ado, off he went to spread the word.

The old Brisbane Stadium was demolished in 1958, and before you could chuck a berry, it was replaced by the new, you-beaut Festival Hall.  The new arena accommodated an indoor crowd of 4,000 - a large number in those days (and nights) of the late Fifties.  

Conway Twitty, who was famous long before Twitter tweeted, appeared in a line-up, which included “Mr. Personality” himself, the one and only, Lloyd Price.  They were joined by Aussie favourites, Johnny O’Keefe, Col Joye & the Joy Boys, The Delltones, Johnny Reb and the Rebels, among others.  Teen favourite, Fabian also appeared, causing the girls to swoon – some requiring mouth-to-mouth, no doubt.

In 1960, Crash Craddock and Tommy Sands crashed the scene.  

My brother was in the audience of the above two concerts.  He and a mate headed off to Brisbane to be part of the crowd, and returned home a-brim with stories that made my heart sing.

Festival Hall still hosted boxing and wrestling matches, including the 1982 Commonwealth Games boxing events; but...joy to the world...music won the bout. Nothing could match its appeal. It’s drawing power could not be ignored.

Music bounced off the walls; audiences rocked in the aisles. 

After I left Gympie to live and work in Brisbane, many times I was part of the excited audiences. 

One balmy Saturday afternoon in 1972 I witnessed a very special concert. 

Running a couple of minutes late, (which is unlike me, normally, because I’m a stickler for punctuality) as I entered the auditorium the familiar strains of “Moonlight Serenade”, being played by The Glenn Miller Orchestra, led by Buddy DeFranco, greeted me.  Tears filled my eyes upon hearing the melody.  Happy memories flooded my being.  During my childhood years, along with other favourite Miller tunes, of which there were many, "Moonlight Serenade", was regularly played on our piano by my mother.  Her nimble fingers flew up and down the keys, and the music brought joy to our lives.

Mum introduced my brother and me to so an endless amount of wonderful music...covering all genres from classical to rock to pop and all in between.

On a hot, humid February night in 1973, I was in the presence of “The King of Swing”, Benny Goodman, decked out in a tuxedo and bow tie.  How cool he was! 

An evening in the early 70s, not the “Twelfth of Never”, I became misty over Johnny Mathis. Once the acoustics were fixed, he was wonderful, wonderful.

There was no “Let’s Stick Together” with Brian Ferry, though. Not impressed, we left his lack-lustre performance after two songs. 

Mikis Theodorakis, the great (outstanding/extraordinary) Greek composer (Hint!   “Zorba, the Greek” and the soundtrack to an equally-marvellous movie, “Z” starring Yves Montand) took my breath away; a powerful concert, indeed.    

Theodorakis commanded one’s attention by his stance alone; his presence was all-consuming...and once he began conducting his troupe of musicians and singers...there was no escaping his magnetic force.  Mesmerised, I was a willing prisoner.  His was one concert, in particular, I didn't want come to an end.  He was a force, indeed.

While at Paul McCartney’s “Wings Over the World” concert on 10th November, 1975, my ear drums felt like Gene Krupa had given them a solid work-out.  The speakers were massive, I kid you not.  

Neil Diamond had my undivided attention in 1976. 

Enthralled by the arrogant beauty and brilliance of Rudolf Nureyev as he leapt (read “flew”) across the stage in “Giselle” is a memory that will remain with me forever.   Nureyev was a shining star....and, to make an evening even better than I thought it could ever be...when he was taking his applause, he turned to me, and smiled!   Again, I kid you not...this is the truth.

And in the words of 1935 song written by Ed Farley and Mike Riley, lyrics by Red Hodgson, made a hit in 1936 when recorded by Tommy Dorsey – also performed by the one and only Ella Fitzgerald, and by the American  jazz cornettist, composer, and jazz bandleader, Red Nichols*** ...

”The Music Goes Round and Round”.....

***  If you’ve never seen the 1959 movie “The Five Pennies”, which starred Danny Kaye as “Red Nichols”...do yourself a favour by watching it when it turns up one Saturday afternoon some time or other, on your television screen...you won’t be sorry.  But, be warned...have a box of tissues handy...

Greek Bean Soup: Soak 1/2kg haricot beans overnight. The next day rinse beans; then put into a deep pan with enough water to cover. Boil them, but before they come to the boil remove the froth that comes up to the surface. After they come to the boil simmer for 15mins. Remove beans; drain in colander. Put beans back in pan; add enough quality chicken stock to cover them up to about 2 fingers above the surface of the beans. Add 1 large onion, grated, 2 diced carrots, 1tbs roughly chopped celery leaves, 1 hot chilli, chopped, 1/2tbs tomato paste, 2 crushed garlic cloves, 150ml slightly concentrated tomato juice, 150ml tomato passata and seasonings. Simmer an hour or more until beans are tender.

Maestro Risotto: Boil 1-1/2c risotto rice until half cooked; then rinse under cold water. Bland 10 asparagus spears; then slice into 3-4 pieces. Heat 1tbs butter and 1tbs olive oil in large pan; sauté 1tsp chopped garlic and 1tbs chopped onion, about 3mins.  Add 30g sliced sun-dried tomato, asparagus and 4 chicken breasts, partly grilled, sliced into strips; cook 4mins. Add rice and 400ml chicken stock; stir regularly until stock is absorbed; taste rice for doneness; if needed, add more stock; keep cooking until done; season with salt, pepper and pinch of Italian herbs; fold in 2tbs grated Parmesan at the last moment; serve. 

Sweet Dreams – Cole Porters: Make first layer; beat 6 egg yolks with 140g sugar until light and fluffy; add 70g melted chocolate and 140g ground walnuts; mix well; spoon into well-greased 23cm spring-form pan; level surface. Stiffly beat the egg whites; then gradually add 140g sugar; beat until stiff peaks form. Add juice of 1 lemon; gently fold in 140g ground almonds; spoon over first layer; level surface. Bake in 150C oven, 2hrs, or until mixture leaves side of pan. When cool, cut into bite-sized pieces.  Melt 120g chocolate with 25g copha; drizzle a little over each piece.  Chill until ready to serve.